The secret to optimal performance

When was the last time you lost track of the time while doing a task? Or Just remember that state your conscious was completely immersed one with the activity you’re performing where hours passed in minutes and minutes in seconds! You don’t even know what was happening around you and your mind was processing the information so quickly and smoothly from different areas of the brain linking it faster. My friend, at that moment you were in the state while you were willing to do that very activity without the sake of getting anything out of it. No matter how difficult and dangerous it is. The state is known as “flow”, a concept proposed by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi. Let me explain this in simple language. There are basically four stages in a flow cycle. The first is the struggle phase, where we experience tension, anxiety, frustration or tension, confusion, similar to when we’re trying something for the very first time. It requires a lot of energy and concentration to keep going with that activity. In the second phase, i.e Release state, Where we accept the challenge and step away from the problem, shifting our gears completely off for some time in order to get back in the game strong. It can be taking a break for 10 minutes or even go for a walk in your neighbouring park or just do something that’s easy and fun for you. Primarily, this state allows you to let go of that thing in which you want to achieve the flow state for a short period of time to relieve stress and anxiety in your mind. Now, the third phase is what we want to be in...the flow phase, where you go back to the task after the release state. It’s a zone which allows you to become an optimal performer where you’re at your level best without getting distracted by email, phone calls, birds chirping, irrelevant thoughts, worries etc. And the final phase is the recovery phase, in which our brain rewires and stores the experience of flow so that from next time, it’s easy for your body and mind to relax before going back into the struggle phase, just like sleep. Remember, flow without proper recovery could mean burnout and injury. Yup. The flow requires this specific sequence we’ve discussed above. If anyone of the four is missing then you can never experience the state where your optimal being intersects your optimal doing. It’s a repeatable process and requires to be synergy. Another important thing for experiencing this flow state continuously is complexity and challenge in the work you’re doing. Let’s say a tennis player is in flow state till the time she’s on the field playing tennis as much as possible. The more she plays the more her skill gets improved. But once, she starts playing the similar opponent each time, she might get bored. And not able to attain that flow state again. Because when there is no balance between challenge and the skills, one struggles to improve their activity in which they want to achieve flow. And flow is like “discovering something new”. So, for that tennis player to remain in her flow state, she needs to find a stronger opponent, which makes things complex and challenging for her. When the goals are clear when challenges match the skills when accurate feedback is forthcoming, a passion is involved in the activity, everything else takes care of itself as you’re now in a flow of your work where you’re getting a feeling pleasure, happiness, satisfaction and enjoyment all at once. Trust me, you’ll forget how you appear in the eyes of others. I know this sounds amazing and you’re curious about how you can achieve/experience this state flow. It’s pretty easy and practical. But the thing is, the below points are very common nowadays and you might have heard it from the mouth of a famous motivational speaker or learned it from a psychologist.

That’s why I kept the points short and sweet because there is already a lot of information regarding them that you can find pretty easily. But if you want to dig deep then I highly recommend you to pick this book named “Flow” , written by the father of the flow concept Mihály Csíkszentmihályi.

Without further ado, chaliye shuru karte hain! (In short: let’s start)

Eliminate internal distractions- Not talking about T.V, news, insta and all those. That is outer or we say external distractions. Even after eliminating or controlling them, you still can be highly distracted. I’m talking about what most people miss out on. Emotional distraction. Daydreaming. Self-talks. Whenever you're performing a task if any of the above is poking you then it means, the state of flow is yet to come. From thinking about your GF to what you'll be eating in the dinner today, it’s all like notification in the app called to mind. Ting! Ting! And it’s more dangerous than normal phone notification.

The more thoughts we have in our mid going on, the more internally distracted we are. The best way to cope up with this to start journaling about how your day went or doing a 10 -minutes breathing exercise and daily meditation works too.

Find your peak time- if you want a key takeaway of this point within 3’s “Flow follows focus”.

Let your BPT a.k.a Biological peak time guides you at which hour of the day it would be easier for you to achieve flow. For some it’s night. And for others, it’s even after lunch.

Remember, choose timings at which your energy is at the peak, secondly, your place should be quite enough.

In case, you’re not aware of your peak time, just simply start a timer of 1 hour before you start your work. After the alarm rings and it feels that you lost the track of time or time passed pretty quickly. Observe the hour of the day and write it down in a diary or excel sheet. Do it for 7 days and you can measure at which time you were on fire...not on real one.

Rule of 1- if you’re someone who works on different tasks simultaneously then you might get hurt. Because getting into this high state of mind couldn’t be possible for you if you multitask. After all, multitasking only exists on the computer, not in real life.

To achieve more and become a peak’s better to pick three important tasks you want to work on in a single day. Only three. And reserve a time slot for each task. Also, be clear on what you want to achieve as procrastination loves less clarity. Once you start switching in between different tasks the flow would be a dream for you.

So, the rule of one says, pick one task at a time, give your heart, soul and mind to it by being inflow.

Challenging but not too hard- Make sure the activity you're performing enhances your capability as a performer improving your skills. But too difficult a challenge invites demotivation, excessive effort and burning out with them. And too easy things you will stop paying attention to and there will be less or no improvement.

Is there any sweet spot? Of course. The 4% rule.

Means, The challenge must be 4% greater than the skills one brings to it. Not less not more. 4 per cent is like the task is hard but you can do it because you have completed similar things in the past. It’s not impossible. So while high performers must learn slow and steady wins this race, underachievers must learn the opposite: that being uncomfortable is a sign of progress, not a reason to run away.


I would like to add one more important thing for flow state and i.e unambiguous feedback so you constantly adjust your actions and reactions to meet current demand plus to know whether you’re headed towards the right direction or not.

With that, I want to end with a quote from the book flow that says

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times—although such experiences can also be enjoyable if we have worked hard to attain them. The best moments usually occur when a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile”

I hope you got some valuable insight after reading this piece that you can implement in your work life to experience flow.

Until next time,

Goodbye :)

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© 2020 by Harkirat Singh